Elevate Difference

Nerdcore Rising

The disclaimer at the beginning of the Nerdcore Rising DVD reads: "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been made more awesome to fit this screen." Needless to say, I was immediately prepared to not take the film too seriously. To be fair, though, there are very few people who would go into a documentary about hip-hop for nerds expecting more than an hour and a half-long joke.

Surprisingly, however, the film treats nerdcore as a mostly reputable genre, with notable interviewees like indie rapper J-Live and parody virtuoso Weird Al Yankovic. The relatively recent movement is loosely defined as rap from a nerdy perspective, meant to counter the "bling" mentality that’s overwhelmed hip-hop over the past decade. While most mainstream hip-hop artists spend verse after verse bragging about how many women they've slept with and how many cars they own, nerdcore rappers are more self-deprecating. Their lyrics serve to embarrass them rather than build them up, highlighting the borderline pathetic circumstances of their personal lives. 

Nerdcore Rising focuses mostly on the so-called "Godfather of Nerdcore," MC Frontalot, following him and his band on their first national tour. Like many traditional hip-hop artists, Frontalot got his start in Brooklyn, NY, which is unexpected but rather appropriate considering the hipster culture now flourishing in Williamsburg. The nerds of nerdcore have a lot in common with these hipsters, as both belong to an obnoxiously self-referential young set that’s currently having a notable impact on pop culture. The term nerd chic seems to me to be a sort of fusion of these two types, and for that reason nerdcore leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

At the same time, part of me really admires the subversive spirit of the movement. Nerdcore can be corralled with other subgenres that go against the grain of conventional hip-hop, like the few female MCs and the even fewer openly gay rappers that have emerged since the early 2000s. 

Many of the artists interviewed in the film argue that nerdcore is a novelty that wears off after about thirty seconds of verse. But the best nerdcore rappers, like Frontalot, are actually legitimate; they bring honesty and intelligence as well as parody to the table. Unfortunately, it seems that the quality nerdcore will get lost in the gimmick, and the genre will not have staying power. This portent is reflected in how the documentary is edited and presented; at one point, director Farsad wanders from the rap agenda to a shot of one of Frontalot’s band members explaining the rules of Magic: The Gathering.

If the filmmakers want nerdcore to be considered more than a one-note parody, perhaps they should have documented it a bit more seriously. Their film is certainly entertaining and funny, but it ultimately does somewhat of a disservice to the artists it’s trying to promote.

Written by: Caitlin Graham, March 27th 2009